Wait, I Thought N.T. Wright Said That First?

New Creation WrightOne of my favorite things about reading the Reformers, or the Fathers for that matter, is finding that the best insights I’ve loved in modern scholars aren’t really that new at all. Take the concept of ‘new creation.’ For many of us, N.T. Wright is probably the modern scholar who brought our attention to the theology of new creation. At least for me he did. In his many works on Paul, the Resurrection, and Christian Origins, again and again, he calls us to hear the proclamation that in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection all things, the cosmos as a whole, have been renewed. God wasn’t simply concerned with saving souls off to an ethereal heaven, but rather faithfully rescuing the world from the decay into which it had fallen. Resurrection isn’t just for people, but the universe as a whole. This is bracing and beautifully good news.

As great as learning all of that is, however, one of the unfortunate side effects of reading Wright, and other modern scholars, is that we’re tempted to think that cosmic element to the Gospel had been entirely screened out and forgotten until about 20 years ago. And yet, here I ran across it in Calvin’s comments on the Christ-hymn in Colossians:

He is the beginning. As ἀρχὴ is sometimes made use of among the Greeks to denote the end, to which all things bear a relation, we might understand it as meaning, that Christ is in this sense (ἀρχὴ) the end. I prefer, however, to explain Paul’s words thus — that he is the beginning, because he is the first-born from the dead; for in the resurrection there is a restoration of all things, and in this manner the commencement of the second and new creation, for the former had fallen to pieces in the ruin of the first man. As, then, Christ in rising again had made a commencement of the kingdom of God, he is on good grounds called the beginning; for then do we truly begin to have a being in the sight of God, when we are renewed, so as to be new creatures. He is called the first-begotten from the dead, not merely because he was the first that rose again, but because he has also restored life to others, as he is elsewhere called the first-fruits of those that rise again. (1 Corinthians 15:20.)

Comment on Colossians 1:18

Calvin Said it FirstOf course, the concept was biblical first–he is commenting on Paul. In that sense it’s always been silly to think this was a new idea. Still, here we see Calvin, 500-something years ago, teaching us that Christ’s resurrection is the beginning of a ‘new creation.’ Way back when, in the hey-day of the Reformation, back when everybody was allegedly too pre-occupied with debates about justification and the salvation of the soul, one of its chief architects was preaching redemption as the act of the God who made all things and is now restoring them, indeed, bringing them to the completion he had always intended. Go figure.

As grateful as I am for scholars like Wright who highlight these themes, giving them new life, deeper connections to their 2nd Temple historical settings–I’m all for development and additional heft–it’s good to know that you can still go back to the greats of theological history and find most of the framework’s been in place for a long time. Indeed, the Reformers would probably say they’re only repeating what the Fathers taught us. And, of course, the Fathers would probably say they’re only repeating what the Apostles said, pointing us faithfully back to the Scriptures.

All that to say, don’t be scared to pick up a commentary published earlier than 1950, or even 1550 for that matter.

Soli Deo Gloria

7 thoughts on “Wait, I Thought N.T. Wright Said That First?

  1. Three things:

    (1) Sometimes we need a voice to speak old truth as if it’s new truth, and we shouldn’t be afraid to examine it and see how old this new truth really is.

    (2) We are just as guilty of reading our spiritual ancestors through the lenses of our own day as we are of reading the Scriptures through the lenses of our own day. (I say that fully acknowledging that we are all, to some degree, “men of our times” and the most we can hope for is to recognize our presuppositions since we certainly can’t pretend we don’t have them.)

    (3) When will we manage to destroy the caricature of Calvin as the heartless jerk? He was not a some cerebral theologian (though he was very intelligent) writing from the ivory tower (his theology was hammered out on the anvil of pastoral ministry) who served as a tyrant and dictator over Geneva (he wasn’t even a citizen).

    If people would bother to read Calvin (rather than listening to five-hundred-year-old rumor and gossip), they would see that while he certainly won’t be accused of being warm and fuzzy (I know this it takes one to know one), he had a heart for Christ, for his Word, and for God’s people and he was above all else concerned about the proclamation of God’s Word so that Christ will be exalted, sinners be drawn to him, and God’s people be strengthened to increased faith and holiness.

    I thank God for people like Calvin and Wright (and you, Derek), and pray God raises up more of them. And I say that having no doubt He will. (I doubt I will be one named in that line, Derek, but maybe you will be.)

    • Amen to all three. I do love that Wright makes everything sound new and fresh. I think my problem with him comes when he makes it sound like everybody’s been missing up until 10 years ago. Aside from that, well, and a couple of actual quibbles with his theology of justification, I heartily agree.

      Also, “500-year old rumor”? Love it.

  2. Wright himself makes this point a number of times, especially in his book Justification. For example, he approving quotes Calvin as saying that the law was given to a people “already redeemed”, and says that the style and approach of Calvin’s commentaries has always been the model for his own work. He expresses surprise that some of his most dogged critics are people from an at least supposedly Reformed background (although whether someone like Piper, for example, is actually Reformed in any significant sense is debatable, to say the least), because much of what Wright says has significant echoes in Calvin.

  3. Pingback: Seeking the City to come – beforeallthings

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